It was a most exciting and secretive offseason for the Round Rock Express (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), as the Dell Diamond was transformed into a production site for the hit AMC TV show Fear the Walking Dead and its fictional team, the Armadillos.
Dell Diamond served as one of the primary sets for the hit show’s fourth season. Over the course of several months, Dell Diamond was transformed into a post-apocalyptic set and the home of the Armadillos.
“We are proud to further showcase the versatility of Dell Diamond alongside a great partner in AMC,” Express President Chris Almendarez said. “To have the entire ballpark transform into a television set for several months, then be ready to go for Opening Day is a testament to the great staff we have here with the Round Rock Express.”
That transformation led to a installation of a new turf field for this season. The below photo shows the field on March 13; the photo above shows it on March 16.
For the uniforms, the Express recreated the identity of the Armadillos using inspiration from the original logo concept seen on Fear the Walking Dead. The armadillo is featured on the cap and the jersey sleeve mimicking characteristics of the show’s popular “walkers” and wielding a razor wire bat, a nod to Fear the Walking Dead’s predecessor, The Walking Dead.
We asked J.J. Gottsch, COO of Ryan Sanders Sports & Entertainment, about the series shoot and its impact on the Dell Diamond.
How disruptive was the shoot?
The shoot was extremely disruptive, but we knew it was going to be from the very beginning. We rented the entire stadium to them for six months. The field, concourse, clubhouse, suites, parking lot–everything except our administration offices. Our entire staff had to sign an NDA along with any vendor that came to the stadium. We were not able to perform any regular off-season maintenance or start any capital improvement projects.
We were very fortunate in how this was handled in-house. Normally in a situation like this the two people that would have the biggest anxiety would be your director of stadium operations and your groundskeeper. Fortunately for us, those two people for us were fans of the show and bought into the project right away. I think that was key, if those two would not have supported this it could have been a completely different story.
Did it end up going all according to plan?
Overall, yes. This was a really unique situation. We’ve had our stadiums be filming locations in the past (The Rookie–Dell Diamond, The Open Road–Whataburger Field), but those were just for a few weeks. This group (AMC Studios) was by far the best production company we’ve ever worked with. Communication was key and being transparent on both sides. If or when there was a problem they took care of it right away.
From a business perspective Dell Diamond is a multi-purpose stadium with a small conference center that we traditionally use all year. We knew we were going to lose those additional business opportunities (that we normally have during the off-season) and had planned for that. The most important thing for us was to have the ballpark ready for opening day on April 5. The plan was for AMC to complete shooting on March 1 and turn the stadium back over to us on March 2–and that’s exactly what happened. On that first day back we had our entire staff, field and front office, on the field helping clear it of all the props and debris from the shooting. It took us, along with the production folks, the entire day but we got it done and turned the field back over to our grounds crew and turf company.
Fortunately for us we have a world-class turf services company in our family of businesses–RS3 Turf. RS3’s headquarters are also at Dell Diamond so we were able to deploy them immediately after the field was cleared to get to work. Unfortunately, we can’t send any pics from that final day of shooting as AMC did not want to give away any of the story.
In addition to removing all of the old sod from the field, and outfield berms, RS3 had to remove a portion of the rootzone for fear of contamination from the filming. A total of 700 yards was removed. The new rootzone was rototilled to break up the organic layer and 100,000 sq ft of big roll TifTuf Bermuda was laid down, followed by topdressing of 72 yards of USGA sand. 24 yards of Duraedge amended infield mix, 48 yards of Southern Athletic field warning track mix also had to be brought in.
In addition to getting the field back ready, we had to fast-track all of the off-season projects we couldn’t do during the six-months of shooting. We replaced all of our field lights with new Musco LED lights and are currently extending the protective back-stop netting to the ends of the dugouts.
Right now, we are all set to go for Opening Day, which was always the most important thing.
How hard was it to keep secret?
Extremely. This show was bigger than we had anticipated, not only in the overall production, but also the number of fans it had around the Austin area. In addition to that, there was a local photographer that flew a drone over the stadium at the beginning of shooting and posted those photos on social media. Fan and local media picked up on it and the production company eventually had to hire extra security to keep people off the property and they also worked with local law enforcement to keep drones from flying over.